For its first 25 years, Calgary was a compact, walkable city with only hotel buses and privately owned horse-drawn carriage fleets ferrying people to and fro. As the population increased— from 3,500 in 1889 to nearly 44,000 in 1911—so did the political will and public desire for a public transit system. Calgary’s rough roadways were treacherous for chain-driven vehicles with rubber tires, so the City opted for an electric street railway system.
Calgary Electric Railway began rolling the rails July 5, 1909, with two streetcars, a single line of track three miles long, and sixteen employees. The first vehicle—a 36 passenger, 16-wheeler made of wood, with woven wicker seats—was produced in Ottawa. It ran along 8 Avenue SW to the exhibition grounds at Victoria Park. Three years later, the renamed Calgary Municipal Railway (CMR) boasted 80 streetcars and over 100 kilometres of track leading to suburbs like Killarney, Tuxedo Park, and Elbow Park.
While some districts vied for the prestige and convenience of a streetcar line in their community, not everyone was enthused. The Reverend George Kerby, pastor of Central Methodist Church, tried to have Sunday streetcar service abolished, and while his bid was unsuccessful, the residents of Mount Royal and South Calgary managed to stop streetcar expansion into their neighborhoods.
To cut costs during WWI, the CMR was one of the first public transit systems to begin offering a “one-man” streetcar. Operators willing to perform duties of both the “motor-man” and the conductor earned a 5-cent-per-hour bonus. Streetcars were modified with a new entrance next to the driver, while the original door became the exit.
Streetcars ran on Calgary streets for just over 40 years until December 29, 1950. Roads had improved by then, and trolley buses and diesel-powered motorbuses took over where the streetcars left off. Calgary wouldn’t see rail transit again until 1981.
Today you can take a ride on a vintage Calgary streetcar at Heritage Park; Car #14 sat abandoned on Calgary Brewing Company property for many years before finding new life at Heritage Park nearly 25 years later. Painstakingly restored to the specifications of the original builder, the streetcar began ferrying visitors from 14 Street SW to the park’s gates in 1973.
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